Patty Schemel: Living Through This

Now clean for 12 years, former Hole drummer Patty Schemel pens a warts-and-all memoir

A few months ago, the washing machine in Patty Schemel’s L.A. home broke, and she promptly prepared for the apocalypse. “I was like, ‘Fuck. My god, now we’re fucked!’” she says. Then reality settled in. “I realized, ‘Well, I have a fucking washing machine. I have a washing machine.’ That’s crazy! Who would’ve thought?!”

Appliance ownership might seem trivial, but for the former Hole drummer, it was once as inconceivable as a pet unicorn. During most of Schemel’s life, heroin made it impossible to imagine a future that involved anything besides abject misery.

Her new memoir, Hit So Hard (Da Capo Press), is an intimate, brazen account of her battle with drugs and alcohol, as well as the volatile years she spent drumming for one of the 1990s’ most infamous rock bands—and she spared none of the harrowing details.

“In my book, there isn’t a moment that glorifies heroin and addiction,” Schemel says firmly. “It’s a pretty honest portrayal of what the day-to-day life of a junkie is and the progression of the disease of addiction. The stereotypes are real, like, ‘If you keep using heroin, you’re gonna get a habit and then you’re gonna have to do stuff you don’t wanna do to keep using.’ All the nightmares and disgusting realities are all true.”

The daughter of recovering alcoholics, Schemel took her first drink at 12. As a young person coming to terms with her homosexuality, she treated her feelings of isolation with drugs and alcohol. Schemel publicly came out in a Rolling Stone article in the mid-’90s because she knew the pain of hiding.

“When I came out as a grown woman, I felt really safe in my environment to be an out lesbian, and it was important to not lie about who I was,” she says. “Growing up, I didn’t see any out lesbians, and I think maybe I wouldn’t have felt as alienated if there were some.”

The disease of addiction only exacerbated her estrangement, and Schemel spent what felt like an eternity attempting to fill the void. She started shooting heroin in ’92 or ’93 and later supported a six-year-long crack habit. She went from performing in front of thousands of screaming fans and sleeping in four-star hotels to crashing on the streets and selling her body for drug money. By her rough estimate, she’s been through 22 detoxes and 14 rehabs.

Now a dozen years sober, the 50-year-old Schemel is married and raising a young daughter, as well as playing drums in Upset, teaching at Rock N’ Roll Camp For Girls Los Angeles and running a dog-care business. All this self-rediscovery was a long time coming—much of Hit So Hard is her desperate quest to “disappear.” One of the book’s more devastating moments is when Schemel is strung out and catches a glimpse of a Ludwig drum kit in a church. Suddenly, she remembered she used to play.

“To rediscover drums in recovery as a sober person, it’s something I know so well,” she says. “It’s that comfort, the familiarity that I’ve been playing drums since I was a kid. It’s a place I go to feel.”

—Jeanne Fury